Here’s How Some States’ Gun Prevention Laws Are Failing to Protect Citizens

Written by Nicole Flatow

New York Times report that analyzed more than a thousand police and court records in cases involving mental illness exposes several gaps in state gun violence prevention law. The reporters portray the investigation as underscoring “how easy it is for people with serious mental health problems to have guns.” But what the investigation actually reveals is how lax state gun laws allow those with a known history of violent propensities — who have also interacted with the mental health system — to retain access to guns. Here are four of the ways some states remain vulnerable from gun possession by those who have exhibited dangerous behavior:

Police must return the guns they seize from those who are deemed dangerous, violent, or delusional. In many states, police have the power to seize guns during an initial police incident for “safekeeping.” But when those cases don’t end with conviction for a prohibited crime, laws in many states do not provide an avenue for police to keep those guns upon a finding of future dangerousness. In one 2004 Indiana incident, officers seized nine guns from Kenneth C. Anderson after he was deemed “delusional and dangerous” during a psychiatric evaluation. Anderson was not committed, however, and “when he sought the return of his guns, police officials concluded that they had no legal grounds to keep them,” the Times reports. Several months later, Anderson killed his mother and a police officer, and wounded four other officers. In response, Indiana amended its law to allow police to confiscate guns from dangerous individuals, and keep those guns for up to five years with court approval. But other states have no such requirements, and police in Colorado and Florida have recently had to return guns to a man who suggested to his psychologist he would commit violence, and another who asked after emerging from a catatonic state whether he had hurt anyone.

Even after an individual is considered dangerous, police cannot search a home for additional guns. In Arapahoe, Colorado, if officers “encountered a man on the street with a gun acting irrationally or suicidal,” they could temporarily seize that gun. But in addition to having to return that gun, they could not go to his home to look for other guns, Arapahoe’s sheriff explains. Connecticut is one of the few states that permits police to seek a warrant to seize guns from those who pose “a risk of imminent self injury to self or others.” A new report from a consortium of mental health and public health professionals has called for more states to implement these policies.

Police who seize guns dont report the incidents to the federal background check database. In Indiana, police can in some instances hold onto the guns they seize from individuals during violent incidents. But Indiana’s state seizure law doesn’t require police to report those seizures to the federal background check database. That means even in a state that allows more permanent gun confiscation, an individual can just go out and buy a new gun without obstacle. To address this issue, Connecticut bolstered its law this year to require all gun seizure records to be entered into the federal database. The state’s gun permit law also considers a seizure order a basis for denying a permit.

Those who are temporarily committed cannot have their guns seized. Individuals who are subject to long-term involuntary commitment lose their gun rights under federal law and at least 21 state laws. But some federal courts have ruled that a temporarily involuntary psychiatric evaluation should not be a basis for losing gun rights. The new mental health consortium report recommends a middle-ground solution that factors in an assessment of dangerousness. It calls for those admitted for short-term involuntarily hospitalization to be prohibited from possessing or purchasing guns temporarily, if they are deemed a danger to self or a danger to others. The report also recommends another assessment on the likelihood of relapse before restoring that individual’s gun rights.

Many of these problems reveal themselves in the course of mental health evaluations, and it is mental health privacy laws that sometimes prevent more information from entering background checks. New York’s new gun reform law, for example, includes a controversial proposal to require mental health professionals to report anyone who “is likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to self or others,” which may lead to a revocation of a gun permit. And President Obama initially floated a similar proposal after the Newtown mass shooting.

But laws that focus just on mental illness as a proxy for violent propensities are both over-and under-inclusive. In Connecticut, for example, out of 180 instances of gun confiscations from people who appeared to pose a risk of “imminent personal injury to self or others,” less than 40 percent involved serious mental illness.

That’s why the new public health consortium’s report focuses on assessments of dangerousness, and calls for expansions of background checks to account for violent propensities in other ways, including banning gun possession for conviction of a violent misdemeanor and those subject to a temporary domestic violence restraining order.

This post was originally published in ThinkProgress

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Rlee Emerysgt
Rlee Emerysgt2 years ago

Amazing how this Quinnipiac poll from 1/4/14 shows the states with the strictest laws against concealed carry have the most violence!

They are the same ones who claimed 90% of people wanted UBC so both polls must be 100% true, lol!

Rlee Emerysgt
Rlee Emerysgt2 years ago

So sad how government facts none of which the rabid anti gun nuts can prove not to exist and not to be true are personal attacks to such rabid leftists, they are just facts.

So please do keep clappping your hands over your ears, closing your eyes and going infinity, doesnt change those facts, doesnt make them disappear, no matter how childishly you wish them to do so, ever!

Yet for all the leftists squealing, we see not one single fact presented by them, to prove their position, other than their pathetic attempts at demonization, hate and spew!

Thanks again for publicly demonstrating exactly what the pathological lie of gun control really is about because your insane version of gun control has not one thing to do with public safety or reducing violence, ever!

Pamela W.
Pamela W.2 years ago

Poor poor poor poor Rlee - it seems he can't even read (or, at any rate, not enough to actually understand what is written) .... but I'll give him 10/10 for being consistent LOL !!
For those of you who wonder what Rlee's 7:57PM PST post on Jan 1, 2014 was all about, I'll repost the one of mine he was referring to (please note the last part, which he obviously missed LOL !) ..............

7:10AM PST on Jan 1, 2014

Rlee E's list is a load of BS !!!!!!!! Being a fair person, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and suggest that his "Y" key stopped working at one stage ROFL !!!!! The majority of these crimes he has marked with an "N" are indeed classed as considered and classed as VIOLENT CRIMES in Britain so the "f a c t s" he has supplied are FALSE !!!!!

Rlee ....... if you want to state FACTS about a country you evidently know NOTHING about - get your "facts" from a reliable source ---- and do NOT subsequently misquote or distort them !!!
Thanks everyone for TRYING to help this POOR lost soul, but it seems he is beyond it !!
Like I said earlier .......... you can't cure stupid !!!!

Michelle R.
2 years ago

Interesting and frustrating article and comments. Thank you Wisteria K, Robert H and Dimitris D for your comments, I fully agree with you!!

Wisteria K.
Past Member 2 years ago

Hi Robert and Dimitris
You are right of course !

Dimitris Dallis
Past Member 2 years ago

I totally agree with Robert.
It's a waste of time for both. No one is gonna change ideas and beliefs through this.

Robert Hamm
Robert Hamm2 years ago

Wisteria, RIEE isnt here to talk he is here to slame liberals. Period. He isnt going to calm down becase his entire point to being here it so slam liberals. AS long as you talk to him he will attack you. The choice is yours of course…….but I have stopped wasting my time.

Wisteria K.
Past Member 2 years ago

Sorry typo
Two of my women friends were killed by..

Wisteria K.
Past Member 2 years ago

Hi Rlee
Two of my women friends were by friends and ex boy friends and NOT by criminals. The pattern in Norway is that we are murdered by family or friends.
The man that killed my friend was a educated psychiatric nurse and not a criminal.
My other woman friend other worked as a researcher and dealt with refugees. Her killer was sent to a mental hospital, he was not a criminal as far as I know , but a psychotic man traumatized by war.
I would have liked to talk with you Rlee if you could calm down.
Somehow it is too hard for me to grasp the real content of your writing. But maybe we will meet on another thread to discuss other topics that interests us. Maybe you should use your knowledge and get a degree in criminology Rlee.

Rlee Emerysgt
Rlee Emerysgt2 years ago

Poor wisteria, you write really good american, thought you were some faker from norway earlier, oh thats right, very common tactic for anti gun nuts to pretend to be more than they are!

So you are admitting that your friends were involved in criminal activity, which means that you were also statistically involved in criminal activity, but what does one really expect from a progressive, nothing really!

Oh thats right, your ability to put out for the bad guy to coerce them not to hurt you is apparently legendary, uh dont believe such a description of your special skills would be per TOS on care2 eh sunshine!

Then of course such unenlightened de-evolved morons in other countries should be able to show everyone how their violent crime rates dropped after they implemented their strict gun control, darn, thats never true, nor did suicides attempted ever reduce, darn them stubborn irrefutable government facts, then why is it that those countries murder rates were always low, and not due to strict gun control, oh thats right, we already covered all of this, yet you keep repeating your lies as if doing so will make them true oh norwegian faker girl!